#Bulgaria – ‘We need a new government that’s going to be able to fight all the systematic problems’

Today (8 October) MEPs voted on the resolution on the rule of law in Bulgaria. With the notable absence of support from the largest group in the European Parliament – the European Peoples’ Party – the report won the support of the majority of the other groups: social democrats, liberals, left and green groups. It was adopted by 358 votes to 277 votes against. 

The parliament’s resolution expresses concern on the “significant deterioration of respect for the principles of the rule of law, democracy and fundamental rights, including the independence of the judiciary, separation of powers, the fight against corruption and freedom of the media”. The report also highlights the need for the Bulgarian government to ensure tighter control on the way EU money is spent and to address concerns that EU money is used to enrich people close to the ruling GERB (European Peoples’ Party) party.

In the week that the European Commission launches a new strategy to include the Roma minority, the resolution also called for more rights for this group and for the adoption of the Council of Europe Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence.

Juan Fernando López Aguilar, S&D Chair of the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee, said: “Press freedom is an essential ingredient for a healthy democracy. For the third year in a row, Bulgaria is 111th on the World Press Freedom Index, by far the worst ranking for any EU country. In Bulgaria, we are also witnessing a worrying a lack of accountability in the judicial system and a Bulgarian Parliament that is repeatedly neglecting its role in the checks and balances of a government mired in allegations of corruption. The combination of these ingredients is forming a toxic cocktail where public trust is very low and people are regularly taking to the streets. 

“With this resolution we want to shed a light on the deteriorating state of the rule of law and fundamental rights in Bulgaria. We are speaking out for the seven million citizens of Bulgaria, just as we do for ten million Hungarian citizens and for forty million Polish citizens, because we are all European citizens. We are doing this for the people of Bulgaria, who we stand with in their fight for justice, accountability and democracy.” 

Katarina Barley, S&D rapporteur on Bulgaria, said: 

“People have been taking to the streets in Bulgaria for 3 months now. They are unhappy with corruption, the lack of separation of powers and the lack of freedom of the press in the country. 80% of Bulgarian people consider corruption to be widespread, while journalists describe extensive political interference in the media. There are systemic problems in Bulgaria’s judicial system that have been highlighted by the European Court of Human Rights and the Venice Commission, such as the office of the Attorney General being able to act without any accountability whatsoever. 

“This vote is a message to Bulgarian people and civil society: we support your demands. The Commission must do everything it can, using all the tools at its disposal, to ensure the Bulgarian government complies with fundamental European values. We also have a message for the EPP Group: you have a political responsibility to act when democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights are under threat. Wake up to what the Bulgarian government is doing at the expense of its own, and all, EU citizens.” 

Ska Keller MEP, President of the Greens/EFA group and shadow rapporteur on the rule of law in Bulgaria, comments: 

“The Parliament is sending a strong signal that we cannot turn a blind eye towards EU countries that have a rule of law and fundamental rights problem. We must call them out when they are failing to uphold our common European values that each country signed up to when they join the EU. The people of Bulgaria deserve to live in a European country free from corruption and where their rights are guaranteed by the rule of law. 

“We stand with the protesters on the streets of Bulgaria. The Bulgarian government should improve the rule of law record and put much greater efforts into the fight against corruption more intensively. Given the current crisis in Bulgaria, it would be premature to end the Commission’s monitoring and reporting of the country through the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism.” 

Daniel Freund MEP, Greens/EFA Member of the Budgetary Control committee who recently visited Bulgaria, comments: 

“EU funds are supposed to contribute to development and to help citizens, not build villas for corrupt politicians or disappear into fake farms. The European Commission cannot stand by as the situation in Bulgaria deteriorates and corruption is widespread. The Commission should look at freezing EU funds to the government and instead directly fund beneficiaries in Bulgaria ensure that this money goes to where it’s needed and not into the pockets of the corrupt.

“The people protesting are looking to Brussels for help and the EU must show that it’s on the side of Bulgarian citizens. In the current negotiations on the EU’s long-term budget, the Parliament is pushing for a mechanism that would support the rule of law and protect EU funds from corruption, which must not be watered down by the Council.”

Related article:

‘All countries have some corruption, but #Bulgaria has become a mafia state’ Yoncheva MEP

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